Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sweet and Sticky Cashew Tofu

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Makes 2 servings
total active time: 35-45 minutes

In this dish, well-seared tofu, cashews and crisp vegetables are doused with a sweet and sticky sauce in a cast iron pan, producing something very similar to Chinese takeout. What makes this sauce so beautifully flavored and thick, and allows it to cling so well to the tofu, is a simple and small dash of a cold water and cornstarch slurry added at the end of cooking time. This looks and smells heavenly throughout the prep and cook time, and is quick and easy enough to make as a weeknight dinner.

for the sauce
2 TB toasted sesame oil
2 TB soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
2 TB cold water, whisked with 2 tsp cornstarch

for the tofu and vegetables
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 TB minced ginger
1 TB minced garlic
1 block of firm tofu, sliced into triangles (no need to press it)
2-3 small shallots, quartered
4-6 shiitake caps, sliced thinly
handful or so of broccoli florets
1/3 cup raw cashews

to serve
sesame seeds
noodles or rice

Combine all of the sauce ingredients except for the cornstarch and water into a small bowl and set aside.

In a cast iron pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add in the ginger and garlic and allow to soften for a minute or two. Then, scrape the contents into a small bowl and set aside.

Return to the stove and place a little more olive oil into the pan. Increase the heat to medium, then place the tofu triangles into the pan. Be careful, as the pan may sputter a bit. Allow the tofu to brown on one side for about 6 minutes, then flip and allow the other side to brown for the same amount of time. Transfer the tofu to a plate.

Next, add in the shallots to the pan. Poke them around a bit after a minute to allow the layers to separate. Add in the mushrooms, stir, then deglaze the pan with a tablespoon of water. Allow to sizzle for a minute or two, then toss in the broccoli florets and cashews. Once the broccoli is bright green after a minute or so, transfer the pan contents to another plate.

Now return the tofu to the pan. Whisk together the sauce, then pour it over the tofu. Stir gently to combine. Stir the water and cornstarch together in a small bowl until combined, then pour into the pan, stir and allow to slightly thicken, then remove from the heat immediately.

Place cooked noodles or rice into a bowl. Add the vegetables and other reserved components to the bowl, then place the tofu triangles over everything, using a spatula to scrape any leftover sauce out of the pan. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, then serve immediately.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Vegan Grilled Cheese with Shiitake Bacon and Tomato

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Developing and improving upon the taste and texture of homemade vegan cheeses is all hinged around finding the perfect balance between the right fat and acid, then figuring out the right kinds and ratios of thickeners to mimic the texture and stretch of cheese. Working off of this principle, I've combined full-fat coconut milk with champagne vinegar (a new-to-me ingredient I discovered yesterday), then used agar powder and tapioca flour for bulk and stretch. After adding in some pureed roasted red pepper, the result was a cheese that looked a bit like the pimento cheese I ate while growing up in the southern part of the United States, but tasted more like a very mild queso dip rather than the southern staple I used to consume. Whether this is melted by itself between two pieces of bread—or made even to be even heartier by adding vegan bacon and fresh tomato slices—this cheese tastes fabulous and is also a breeze to make.

Makes 2-3 sandwiches, with some cheese leftover
total active time: 25-30 minutes
total passive time: overnight, for the cheese to gel; 15-20 minutes, for the shiitake bacon to marinate

for the cheese
3.5 oz prepared roasted red pepper
1/2 can (13.66 fl. oz.) coconut milk, unsweetened (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tsp champagne vinegar
3/4 tsp agar powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 TB tapioca flour, whisked in 1 TB cold water
1 TB nutritional yeast
1 tsp liquid lecithin

for the shiitake bacon
6-8 shiitake caps, sliced
2 TB sesame oil
2 TB olive oil
few dashes of liquid smoke OR
oven-prepared shiitake bacon 

your favorite bread, for toasting (I used focaccia)
olive oil, for the bread
fresh tomato slices, for serving

Place the roasted red pepper into a small food processor and puree well. Leave it in the processor and set aside.

Place the coconut milk, vinegar, agar and salt into a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until a small boil is achieved, whisking continuously the entire time. Remove from the heat and whisk in the tapioca/water mixture, nooch and lecithin. Now, pour a bit of the mixture into the food processor with the roasted red pepper, then puree again until combined. Then, scrape all of the contents back into the pan, and stir again to combine. Transfer to a container, cover, then place in the refrigerator to slightly gel overnight.

When you are ready to make the sandwiches, toss the sliced shiitake in the oils and liquid smoke, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes. 

Heat a flat skillet over medium heat. Place the shiitake into the pan, making sure all shiitakes make contact with the bottom of the pan with no overlapping. Allow to slightly brown for about 2 minutes, flip, then allow to brown on the other side for 2 more minutes. Transfer to a paper towel, to slightly drain and crisp up.

Return to your pan. Apply a little olive oil to your bread, then place oil side down. If you are using thin sandwich bread, slice the cheese thinly, then place onto the bread. If you are using thicker bread like focaccia, you can just melt some of the cheese separately in the microwave or small pan, then pour onto the bread once it is browned and removed from the pan.

Arrange the shiitake bacon and sliced tomato onto the sandwich. Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Glazed Tofu with Fiery Sriracha Pearls

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Besides producing beautiful shapes and textures, spherification techniques can also alter how flavors behave in a dish. Here I've created sriracha pearls, which were then dropped into a viscous and sweet glaze over well-seared tofu cubes. Instead of producing an even heat level throughout, these pearls created tiny yet fiery pops of isolated heat in each bite. These pearls can be made beforehand, and stored in cold vegetable oil until ready to use. They just simply need to be rinsed in a bit of cold water first, and will be quite sturdy once formed.  

for the sriracha pearls
1/8 cup sriracha
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 gram agar powder
several cups of vegetable oil, placed in the freezer for an hour to chill
an empty tall beer glass, placed in the freezer an hour to chill

for the tofu 
1 TB peanut oil
1 block of firm tofu (no need to press it)
1 TB sesame oil
1 TB soy sauce
3 TB mirin
drop of rice vinegar
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB cold water, whisked with 1 tsp cornstarch
black and white sesame seeds, for serving

In a small saucepan, heat the sriracha, sesame oil, broth and agar over medium-low heat until it comes to a small simmer. After 45 seconds, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two.

Remove the chilled oil and empty glass from the freezer. Place the cold oil into the glass so only and inch of two of space is left at the top. Using a pipette, squeeze bottle or syringe, suck up a tablespoon or two of the mixture. Keeping the dropper very close to the oil, slowly drop it in, and allow the beads to fall to the bottom of the glass. After several beads are created, pour the entire glass through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl, then return the oil back into the glass and repeat. The pearls can then be rinsed in the strainer and stored in water while you make your tofu.

Cut the tofu block into 3 slabs, then half those slabs to make 6 large tofu cubes. 

Heat the peanut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Place the cubes into the hot pan. They will sputter a bit when they hit the pan. Allow the brown on each side for 4-5 minutes each. You may need to add a little more oil to the pan during browning time if the cubes start to stick. Once they are fully browned, transfer them to another plate while you make the glaze.

In a separate clean saucepan, heat sesame oil, soy sauce and mirin over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir well, then add in the vinegar, then sprinkle the brown sugar over the top. Add in the water and cornstarch mixture, stir until thickened, then remove immediately from the heat.

Spoon the sauce over the top of the tofu cubes, then garnish with the sriracha pearls and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Four Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Today is National Grilled Cheese Day. Vegans too can celebrate this annual quasi-holiday by whipping up a batch of homemade vegan cheese or ripping open a bag of Daiya, slathering some bread with Earth Balance and toasting up some grilled goodness of their own. Here is a roundup of some of my favorite ooey-gooey creations in observance of this very cheesy Friday.

French Onion Soup Sandwich

Vegan Grilled Cheese with Smoky Tomato Soup

Tempeh Reuben with Sriracha-Vegenaise Dressing

Vegan Reuben Sandwich

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mint, Basil and Cilantro Udon Noodle Bowl

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The other day, I ate a fresh spring roll packed with mint, basil and cilantro and loved how the vibrant, crisp and clean flavors perfectly complimented each other. I found myself craving the taste a few days later, but instead of trying to recreate the rolls at home, I ended up using these herbs together in a different application and found that they also worked nicely in a soup. Both fragrant and pretty, this dish is also really easy to make. 

1 TB toasted sesame oil
1 TB ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sriracha, or more to taste (optional) 
1 TB chopped flowering chives (optional)
4-6 shiitake caps, thinly sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1-2 scallions, sliced (optional)

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mirin or broth
3 cups Imagine Brand No-Chicken broth (or homemade stock)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 TB brown sugar
udon noodles (or your favorite kind of noodle)
fresh basil, mint and cilantro, chopped (use 1 TB of each for each bowl)
fresh chilis and black sesame seeds (optional)

Heat the sesame oil in a medium-sized saute pan over low heat. Add in the ginger and garlic and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add in the sriracha and chives and allow to soften a bit more for a few minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium, then add in the shiitake, shallots, scallions and carrot. Pour the mirin into the pot to deglaze the pan, allow to sizzle, then add in the broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar and brown sugar. Allow to come to a small simmer, then reduce the heat to low.

Cook the udon noodles according to the package instructions (see also Mark Bittman's alternative method for boiling/cooling udon noodles). Add the noodles to serving bowls, then ladle the soup over the top. Add a tablespoon each of chopped fresh basil, mint and cilantro into each bowl, and garnish with thai chilis and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.